Creativity, Unplugged: Renee Phillips, Fine Artist
In this new series, our mission is to show the world the many facets of creativity. We will interview people from all walks of life, including those who make a living through their creative pursuits as well as those who explore creative passions outside of work. Our goal is to share the benefits of creativity as well as the struggles –– to share that we are not alone in our fears, insecurities, or general humanness. Through these stories, we hope to inspire more people to cultivate the courage to explore their own creative passions and pursuits.
Renee Phillips, 38. Recently relocated from NYC to Delray Beach, FL. Process-based artist.
I’ve considered myself an artist from a very young age, and luckily I had parents that encouraged my creative endeavors and helped me pursue my passion through outlets in and outside of, school. I remember being around 6 years old and carrying around a little art journal that I filled with drawings of deep sea creatures full of bright colors and funny names. I did end up pursuing a major in Fine Art at University of Miami, FL, and do not regret doing so, but I left feeling depleted, uninspired and just plain not interested in pursuing a career as an artist. Instead I moved to NYC and got a job working for WIRED Magazine which was one of the greatest decisions of my life. I was there for 7 wonderful years obtaining the life and business experience needed to start a career of my own. It also allowed me to paint as a hobby and regain my love for art. I also didn’t have to stress out about making money off of my art, which really helped me dive into
unexplored territory with experimentation.
2 years ago I became a Mom to my daughter Olive, so that is really my #1 job and hobby at the moment. Taking care of Olive has really helped segment my priorities in life, but the transition hasn’t been all roses and I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to take time to refill my cup with hobbies and dedicated art creation time. I love yoga, hanging with friends and being in nature…hiking, exploring, basically anything that gets me connected to the Earth. Being present in nature is where I feel most inspired and the visions really start forming in my brain.
The surface of Earth is my biggest inspiration, both at the macro and micro level. I love looking at drone and satellite images of the Earth moving, flowing and changing, but I also love going for a hike and getting a close-up view of lichen on the rocks or watching the ocean tide go out as layers of waves and water flow over each other leaving imprints in the sand.
I like to work on multiple pieces of artwork at a time. This relieves the stress of having to finish this one piece. It’s a given that you come across creative blocks with creating artwork – it can be with one specific piece or an overall block which generally lets me know I might be moving into a new series and therefore need to go out and find new inspiration. I walk, I journal, I meditate, I look through books and magazines. Because my art is really based on color theory, if I’m feeling stuck sometimes I’ll just head into a paint store and just start playing around with combinations of color with their paint samples.
Art has really been a saving grace for my mental health. I can’t say enough for the healing powers of expression. I was suffering from some really debilitating panic attacks a few years ago and getting into the studio and throwing paint around, and using my body to create art really helped move some pretty heavy, anxious energy out of my body. It also resulted in some super expressive art. Creating art not only helped me release, but also helped me turn inwards to find peace, balance and silence that annoying brain chatter.
I have a wide range of artists I turn to for inspiration. Hilma af Klint was a huge inspiration to me recently, her retrospective at the Guggenheim brought me to tears. Others include Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko, Lynda Benglis, Jules Olitski, Julian Schnabel, Jose Parla.
I’m a big fan of the mindful walk. The combination of movement and presence is hugely helpful for me to get into the proper headspace to paint, or open up the channel to new ideas and concepts.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – HUGE fan of this book. I also love reading artist biographies and studio practices. The Secret Language of Color by Joann Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut, and The Universe Within by Neil Shubin. SO much inspiration came to me while reading Neil’s book on the formation of Earth.
In the beginning I would struggle with fear and self-doubt a lot, but the more I worked in the studio, the more experience I gained, the more those fears really started to subside. For years I was just working alone in my studio experimenting on new techniques and ways to mix and manipulate paint. I really had to give myself the permission to create anything I wanted without judgement. I got a part-time job to pay the bills, and that allowed me to experiment without the financial pressure. Over time I really started to create something that I felt proud of, and could say this art is truly authentic and that’s what I love most about being an artist.
The best advice I really ever received was from Jerry Saltz when I was at the SVA Summer Art Residency. He said something like, “Work every day, just show up and do something. The art doesn’t create itself,” and, “Find your community”. It’s been super helpful to have other artists and friends to critique with, chat and grow as artists. I would also say it’s very important to create a body of work. And what I mean by that is take the time to really find your artistic expression so you can showcase 25 – 50 works of art that viewers will recognize as your own.
Authentic expression. Creatively has allowed me to learn who I am and who I want to be.
Go behind-the-scenes with contemporary artist, Renee Phillips, in her Chelsea, NYC art studio here. As a process-oriented artist, Phillips creates sculptural color field paintings by pouring and manipulating enamel, spray paint and acrylic with the elements of wind, water and heat. View Phillips’ latest artwork at reneephillipsdesign.com and follow her on Instagram.